Sometimes traveling to a seemingly idyllic paradise to revive their spirits can ultimately have adverse affects, and make a person’s circumstances even more dire. That’s certainly the case for actress Nicky Whelan’s protagonist of Jesse in the new horror thriller, ‘Maneater,’ whose sorrows aren’t the only thing that are going to drown during her trip with her friends.
The feature was written and directed by veteran genre filmmaker, Justin Lee. ‘Maneater’ is now playing in theaters, and On Demand and Digital, courtesy of Saban Films.
‘Maneater’ follows Jesse as she tries to contend with a broken heart after her fiancee ended her engagement. Instead of missing her honeymoon plans, her friends decide to join her on her trip to an idyllic island paradise in Hawaii. However, the initially blissful trip quickly quickly dangerous soon after the titular man-eating shark is spotted in the nearby waters, and targets the daughter of a local resident, Harlan (Trace Adkins).
Whelan and one of her co-stars, Jeff Fahey, generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Maneater’ during individual exclusive interviews over the phone. Among other things, the actress and actor discussed that they were both interested in starring in the drama because they were not only intrigued by the action and adventure sequences involving the titular shark, but also the characters’ emotional journeys and strength in battling their newfound enemy. The performers also praised Lee’s helming approach throughout the production, and noted how they appreciated that he gave them the opportunity to follow their own instincts while developing certain aspects of their characters.
The conversation with Fahey began with him sharing why he was interested in playing his character of Professor Hoffman in the movie. “One of the film’s producers, Daemon Hillin, is a long-time friend of mine. We’ve done a number of other projects together. Also, the (film’s) writer-director, Justin Lee is also a friend of mine, and we’ve also done a number of other projects together. Trace Adkins is also a .friend of mine, and we’ve also done a number of projects together,” he shared.
“I made this film between two other films I was doing. They got a hold of my manager and asked him to ask me if I’d take a look at the script and consider jumping over to Hawaii for a day and be a part of the film,” the actor revealed.
“So I read the screenplay and saw it for what it is – a nice roller coaster ride in the shark world,” Fahey continued. “But I did the film for more than just the character itself; I did it to work with friends and participate in getting a small film done.
“It’s a miracle to get anything done, as it’s so difficult these days. It’s an uphill battle, so if I can be a part of a team that helps get a little film made, I’m going to do it,” the actor explained.
“Jumping into a genre like this, knowing that it’s not going to change the world, is fun. It’s a roller coaster ride that hopefully some people will be entertained by,” Fahey added.
Whelan began her conversation by explaining why she was interested in playing Jesse in ‘Maneater.’ “Shark movies have this incredible following to them; people love shark movies! This script was put in front of me, and I thought, you know what? I’m going to be part of a shark movie in my career,” she revealed.
“I also loved the character of Jesse. She not only survives, but she’s also brave enough to take on this shark, which is something I certainly wouldn’t do in my real life. She gets to do these crazy, adventurous things, and she had this cool arc in the movie,” the actress shared.
“She loses everything, but makes an incredible comeback from a really broken place. What she goes through is really traumatic,” Whelan divulges.
But Jesse “gets to team up with Trace Adkins’ character, who’s such an incredibly badass man. He’s so successful in his background and where he comes from,” the actress gushed about her co-star.
“So there were many parts about this movie that were appealing to me. I loved the whole experience,” Whelan added.
Further speaking about how Jesse is contending with several traumatic experiences, the actress then shared how she approached building her character’s emotional arc throughout the story. “At a certain age, we’ve all been through some sort of heartbreak. It’s actually not a great emotion to always tap into, as it’s one of the worst pains in the world,” she noted.
“My character starts out with heartbreak, so I tapped into breakups I’ve been through in the past. That did help, as I feel that heartbreak will always stay in your energy field in some capacity. It’s good to tap into that as an actress, as uncomfortable as it can be, because there’s nothing that reads more than someone who’s getting over a broken heart,” Whelan pointed out.
“With the limited time we had to shoot the movie, and with the project being a shark story, I kind of wanted to give a little bit of heartbreak. She was broken and sad at the start of this movie, and by the end, she’s diving into the water and facing a shark,” the actress revealed with a laugh. “What else does she have to lose?
“I’ve also had moments in my life where I’ve felt like that, so I thought, let’s do it!,” Whelan exclaimed. “I feel like you can show those kinds of emotions in this kind of movie.”
Like the actress mentioned, the thriller also features an ensemble cast that includes Adkins. She then delved into what her experience was like of collaborating with her costars throughout the production.
“Some of the magic of making films is that you don’t know who you’re working with a lot of the time. Even if you do know who they are and saw their work before, you don’t know how they’re going to portray their characters in the project you’re working on together,” Whelan pointed out.
“But that’s part of the magic of making movies. You obviously have a storyline you have to stick to, but actors also infuse a bit of themselves into their roles, too,” the actress divulged.
“You get on the set with someone like Trace, who comes from a music background, and has such a great energy about him in the music scene,” Whelan gushed about her co-star.
“But he also became his character in the film so quickly. He is tough as hell, and I could see him standing on the back of a boat, saving the day. He brought that to this movie, which made him feel as though he was in a father role,” the actress revealed.
“I was also going through my own mission, with all of these beautiful people who played my (character’s) friends in the movie. We all started off so tight, and I adored them,” Whelan also shared about the rest of her co-stars.
“It was a challenging movie to make, especially under the conditions we were under. But we all got together and figured it out very quickly. We had limited time, but I think we all did a great job,” the actress added.
Fahey also chimed in on the experience of collaborating with the rest of ‘Maneater’s ensemble cast. “One of the main reasons why I signed on to star in the film was to work with my friend, Trace Adkins. I’m always fascinated by people who are hugely successful in one world, as he is as a songwriter and performer in country music, and then want to move into other mediums, as he has done with acting,” he revealed.
“If you see Trace’s progress, it’s fascinating. So I wanted to work with him on this particular film because we have a couple of scenes together,” the actor divulged. “I didn’t work with any of the other actors; I only worked with Trace on those couple of scenes.”
Besides crafting the emotional arc of the story with her fellow performers, Whelan also embraced the at-times challenging experience of creating the physicality for the role of Jesse. “I did have a stunt double on this movie. I’m sort of fit in real life, as I’ve done a lot of boxing,” she shared.
“But to be honest, I really wasn’t prepared for what I had to do for this movie. The water on the beach where we were shooting at the back of the airport in Maui was really choppy, We also had boiling hot days,” the actress divulged.
“So it was incredibly challenging, and I was exhausted a lot of days. But that really pushed me physically into a place where I was like, if I do another movie in the water, I think I’m going to have to take swimming lessons!,” Whelan admitted with a laugh.
“I can swim, but having to act and swim in the ocean with the waves was a whole different experience. I had to ask Justin, our director, to allow us to do the scenes in one take because I didn’t have the energy to continue on, doing the takes over and over again,” the actress also revealed. “But at the end of the day, it was very satisfying.”
Further speaking of the fact that the film was shot on location in Maui, Whelan shared what her overall experience was like of filming in Hawaii. “You can go to the most random locations to shoot a movie, but when someone says Hawaii, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. I’ve been to Hawaii a few times and it’s a beautiful location. The people are so friendly and great to work with there,” she noted.
“When I received this script, it required a lot of energy and physicality. But at the end of the day, after working on the physicality, I was able to go back to my beautiful hotel on the beach in the evenings,” the actress continued.
“I like to be away from L.A. when I’m shooting because then I can really immerse myself in the work and connect with the other people on the set. So when someone says Hawaii, I always say yes,” Whelan added with a laugh.
Fahey also shared that he enjoyed being able to shoot his scenes for ‘Maneater’ on locations in Hawaii. “Before I was an actor in the industry, I was an old hippie who enjoyed traveling; I traveled the world on the hippie trail through Europe and Asia,” he revealed.
“But to be telling stories as part of the industry with some fascinating, interesting people and ever-changing places and stories is truly a gift,” the actor noted. “Going to Hawaii to shoot my scenes for the film was like going home; I did three years on the great show ‘Lost’ there, so it was nice to go back to my old territory, even if it was only for a couple of days.”
Like Whelan previously mentioned, the drama was written and directed by Lee. She then further delved into what the experience was like of developing her character’s arc throughout the production with him.
“I really appreciate Justin for the fact that he wanted to use a mechanical shark throughout the movie, which we did use. But there is also a CGI shark that was also used throughout the movie. I think that was a bold thing to do on Justin’s behalf,” the actress divulged. “I liked that he wanted to go that old-school route.
“He also had the opportunity to leave us actors to rely on our own instincts on certain things. In such chaotic circumstances, Justin was very chill, and I really appreciated that from him,” Whelan admitted. “Some days were really challenging for all of us, so he would ask if we were good and give me space, especially to catch my breath. He was also a lot of fun. So I really enjoyed working with him.”
Fahey also chimed in on the experience of collaborating with Lee as the movie’s writer-director throughout the production. “It’s interesting; I was in a restaurant about seven years ago, and I was having a meeting with a cinematographer, John Bartley, who was the cinematographer on ‘Lost.’
“We were sitting and talking, and this guy walks up and says ‘Hey, I’m a big fan of yours, Jeff. My name’s Justin Lee, and one day I’m going to do this Western. I’ve been trying to get it made,'” the actor shared.
“So I gave him my manager’s number and I said, ‘When you get it together, give him a call, and he’ll help you out,” Fahey revealed. “Sure enough, a few years later, Justin called my manager and said, ‘I’ve got a couple dollars; can Jeff jump in and help me make this film, ‘Badland?’ I said, ‘Absolutely,’ and we met.
“He then went on to do a couple more films. What I like about Justin is that I’ve seen him evolve as not only a director, but also a writer,” the actor gushed about the filmmaker. “Each one of these small little films gets a little better, and he owns his craft a little more.
“I believe in ‘Maneater,’ as well as the two Westerns we did together – ‘Apache Junction’ and ‘Badland’ – there was progression,” Fahey added. “It’s always a fascinating adventure to be working with people like Justin.”
Now that production on the feature is complete, Whelan shared her support for Saban Films releasing ‘Maneater’ in theaters and On Demand and Digital. “Hollywood has changed so much, so everything is Digital and on these platforms. So it’s a little different than when movies were just released in theaters for a few weeks and then disappeared,” she pointed out.
“So we’re blessed that this movie is playing in theaters and Video On Demand. The good thing about that is that people have more access to it, especially if they can’t get to a theater. With COVID still being prevalent, it’s great to have these other outlets,” the actress concluded.